Truth Be Told

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Native Response to Hillary Clinton's "Off The Reservation" Comment

On Friday April 29, in response to a CNN interview question regarding the expected political and personal attacks from Donald Trump in a general election, Hillary Clinton stated that she has experience dealing with men who sometimes get "off the reservation..."

"Off the reservation" is a term deeply rooted in the implicit racial bias of the United States of America. Reservations are federal lands where Native peoples were herded before and after the "Indian Removal Act" passed by the United States Congress in 1830. Reservations are where our people were moved to during forced relocation like the "Trail of Tears" (Cherokee) and the "Long Walk" (Navajo). Reservations are not owned by Native people or tribes. Instead, they are lands held in trust for us by the United States Federal Government because we only have the right of occupancy to the land, whereas White Europeans have the right of Discovery and, therefore, the true title to the land.


When Natives are “on the reservation,” it is implied that we are contained, isolated, and controlled. When we go "off the reservation," chaos ensues. We have gone rogue, act unpredictably, and are causing trouble.
In its literal and original sense, as you would expect, the term was used in the 19th century to describe the activities of Native Americans:

"The acting commissioner of Indian affairs to-day received a telegram from Agent Roorke of the Klamath (Oregon) agency, dated July 6, in which he says: 'No Indians are off the reservation without authority. All my Indians are loyal and peaceable, and doing well." (Baltimore Sun, July 11, 1878)

"Secretary Hoke Smith...has requested of the Secretary of War the aid of the United States troops to arrest a band of Navajo Indians living off the reservation near American Valley, New Mexico, who have been killing cattle, etc." (Washington Post, May 23, 1894)

"Apaches off the reservation...killing deer and gathering wild fruits." (New York Times, Sept. 7, 1897)

Many of the news articles that used the term in a literal sense in the past were also expressing undisguised contempt and hatred, or, at best, condescension, for Native Americans — "shiftless, untameable...a rampant and intractable enemy to civilization" (New York Times, Oct. 27, 1886).
(Kee Maleskey - NPR June 29, 2014)
But I would not expect Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to understand this.  They are the essence of the typical, establishment American candidates. Experts in the art of mythologizing American history and well-trained to speak the carefully constructed code language of American Exceptionalism.

The American mythology teaches that these lands were "discovered," instead of conquered or stolen. And the language of exceptionalism refers to the 19th century as periods of "Manifest Destiny" and "Westward Expansion." Rather than more accurately acknowledging that the United States ethnically cleansed this land to make way for American settlers.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been taught to not read the entire Declaration of Independence, lest they learn that the very declaration this country holds as sacred, is actually a racist document, which, 30 lines below the statement "All men are created equal," dehumanizes Natives as "merciless Indian savages."

They have been trained to not ask about the dehumanizing legal instrument (Doctrine of Discovery) or the racist legal precedent (1823, Johnson v. M'Intosh) that the Supreme Court of the United States used to establish the basis for land titles in this country.

These past 8 months many in our nation have rightly identified the narcissistic words and actions of Donald Trump as offensive, childish, ignorant, and even racist. But, unfortunately, most have not understood the deeper implications of his rhetoric. Donald Trump understands what made America 'great'--explicit and systemic racism.

One CANNOT discover lands that are already inhabited. That action is more accurately referred to as conquering or stealing. The notion that America was discovered is a racist colonial concept that assumes the dehumanization of indigenous peoples.

Throughout the 19th century the United States of American was literally in a constant state of warfare against native peoples: The Trail of Tears, the massacre at Sand Creek, the Long Walk, the massacre at Wounded Knee, the hanging of the Dakota 38 (largest mass execution in the history of the US), the Seminole Wars, the Navajo Wars, the Puget Sound War, the Comanche Campaigns, the Nez Pierce War and the Pine Ridge Campaign, just to name a few.

American expansion is merely a code word for genocide and ethnic cleansing.

And in a country that gave 20 Congressional Medals of Honor to the soldiers who participated in the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890) and to this day refuses to rescind them, it is normal, even expected, that a leading candidate for the office of President of the United States would thoughtlessly use the phrase "off the reservation."

A few months ago, President Obama, in his final state of the Union referenced the preamble to the Constitution when he said "'We the People.' Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people..."

When I heard that I said to myself, "Really? All the people? When did we decide that? I must not have gotten the memo? Did SCOTUS change the legal precedent for land titles?”

The definition of “We the People” is the very debate that is taking place in the Presidential Campaigns today.  Donald Trump seems to be advocating at the top of his lungs that “We the People” does not include Muslims, immigrants, women, and, based on the obscene amount of money he has made buying and selling land in the United States, definitely not natives. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is using terms like "off the reservation," and reassuring people that “We don’t need to make America great again. America never stopped being great.” Demonstrating that she does not understand the systemic racism and blatant oppression that has been endured by people of color throughout the entire history of this nation.

Unfortunately, the dialogue that is taking place this election cycle is not about broad-based equality or ending racism. The conversation we are having today is about the type of racism we want to settle for. "Do we want Hillary Clinton to work to keep racism as our nation’s implicit bias; or allow Donald Trump to champion racism as our explicit bias?"

After all, isn't building a wall, banning Muslims, and personally funding a presidential campaign with a fortune made by buying and selling land that has been ethnically cleansed, merely the fruit of a country that has learned all too well how to deal with the “merciless Indian savages” who sometimes get "off the reservation"?

- Mark Charles

13 comments:

Mark Charles said...

On Friday April 29, in response to an interview question regarding the expected political and personal attacks from Donald Trump in a general election, Hilary Clinton stated that she has experience dealing with men who go "off the reservation..."

"Off the reservation" is a term deeply rooted in the implicit racial bias of the United States of America. Reservations are federal lands where Native peoples were herded before and after the "Indian Removal Act" passed by the United States Congress in 1830. Reservations are where our people were moved to during forced relocation like the "Trail of Tears" (Cherokee) and the "Long Walk" (Navajo). Reservations are not owned by Native people or tribes. Instead, they are lands held in trust for us by the United States Federal Government because we only have the right of occupancy to the land, whereas White Europeans have the right of Discovery and, therefore, the true title to the land.

Patrick Watters said...

I can only humbly agree and pray for wisdom and mercy. Amen. Wopila.

Annette Harris said...

That's what my Dutch parents taught me. But they immigrated here and have a different perspective. I agree with you.

Annette Harris said...

That's what my Dutch parents taught me. But they immigrated here and have a different perspective. I agree with you.

Young Kim said...

Wrong. Trump encourages immigration, just not the illegal kind.

Anonymous said...

I still remember a remark from a friend when I was about eight years old. It was the first racist remark I remember. She remarked that her parent told her that I could attend church with her even though I was "part Indian". I've mentioned this remark in a few group settings only to combat racist remarks of any kind. I have a proven record of support for equality between all men and women. I believe Hillary Clinton knew exactly what she was saying and it was no accident. I am surprised that she believes it's alright to insult Native Americans and all men in the same sentence! I listened to the media all weekend and find they basically slap her on the wrist and defend her by saying she really didn't mean the remark as an insult to Native Americans.

Anonymous said...

Until now I had no idea how derogative this phrase is. I'm 49 and have used it at least a couple dozen times or more over the years I'm sure. I am sorry for that.

G Kelly said...

As noted, this expression is no longer used for Indian tribes or native Americans, it has moved over to describe members of the general population who are making trouble or acting uncouth. I'll bet Hillary will be willing to apologize for any prejudicial overtones, but I would guess that native Americans and all other minorities will do far better with Hillary than they would ever do under a Trump administration.

Anonymous said...

When I heard those comments come out of her mouth, my jaw dropped. I couldn't believe anyone would say something that offensive, especially a presidential candidate who wasn't Trump, in a completely offhanded way.

There was a blurb about her saying this on the Politico website, it does not even mention that this is a completely racist remark. How is it a thing to ignore this in mainstream media?

Then I googled to see if ANYONE was saying anything (found my way here!). When it was mentioned by mainstream media, it was only to say that "Native Americans angered..". Um, I'm not native and I was infuriated. We are all in this together, how can this figure of speech and all that it implies (in a larger sense, the idea that a reservation is where anyone who is not easily controlled should be isolated and separated) possibly be acceptable today?

Reading a couple of other comments here, I see that other (presumably white) people have heard and used this phrase before (I hadn't), and one had never even thought about its origins, or noticed before that it was racist. OK, when I was a kid I was taught to say I'd been gypped if I'd been cheated. I didn't know the origin of that saying or that it referred to gypsies, for years. So.. I kind of get it. I guess..

But come on, "off the reservation" is completely explicit. Sickeningly, this has been one of the few unscripted moments of Hillary's entire campaign.

Compare Clinton, who's word choice speaks to separation, hierarchy, racism,and fear, to Bernie Sanders message of unity. No, I don't agree with all his stances (like his acceptance of drone assassinations), but he and Jane have visited, and listened to, several First Nations while campaigning. Bernie was given a Lushootseed name in Washington State, it translates to "the one lighting the fires for change and unity".

Thank you for the post, and the comments. May we all awaken to our oneness.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for your excellent article. I am a First Nations (Dakota) from Canada with roots in Sissiton Wahpeton and Spirit Lake tribes. I am always amazed that these type of comments are still made. Perhaps a quick awareness of the true American history should be given to both Clinton and Trump. It may not help but if they espouse to become leaders than they should do some research. I am glad that this has made the headlines as it may make others aware of their ignorance. Mitakuye oyasin.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments.

Rose Maria said...

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for 2016 US President?
Hillary Campaign

eric anderson said...

Political correctness is the death of a free society and can only bring about 1984 type mind control. Why not let people say what they say and have the courage to challenge those with different opinions? Soon there will no way to communicate at all if we let the thought police control our speech. Let the racists speak. Who cares what hateful or crazy people say? If they have a point then the truth will bear testimony to their arguments. If they are delusional or lying then free men and women can debunk their specious arguments. Government mind and speech control is not the answer. Never has been and never will be. If you attempt to silence the opposition they will only become more resolved to prove out their opinions.